Xah's edu corner: the Journey of Foreign Characters thru Internet

Xah Lee xah at xahlee.org
Tue Nov 1 14:49:35 CET 2005

the Journey of Foreign Characters thru Internet

Xah Lee, 20051101

There's a bunch of confusions about the display of non-ascii characters
such as the bullet "•". These confusions are justifiable, because the
underlying stuff is technology, computing technologies, are in a laymen
sense, extremely complex.

In order to be able to type the bullet char, post it to a newsgroup,
and receive the posted material, and have that bullet displayed as a
bullet as it was intended, truly involves the availability of several
technologies, on the sender's computer, on the receiver's computer, and
thru the network that received the posting, and the network the post
was retrieved, as well as the configuration of the sender and poster's
computers. And, cross your fingers, that all things should go well, but
unfortunately, because the fucking asses criminals such as Larry Wall
in the computing industry, mostly likely things will not go well.

[Disclaimer: all mention of real persons are opinion only.]

Here's a quick rundown:

• there needs to be agreed upon a character set. (that is, the set of
symbols to be used on computer) Many such character sets includes the
bullet symbol.

• there needs to be a code map that maps the alphabets (and any other
symbols) to numbers.

There are various standard bodies that standardize these character sets
and code maps. (usually, but not always, they come together as one)

• now, more technically, once each character has a associated number,
this number needs to be turned into actually binary number. This is the
encoding part. There are various standards of encoding a character set,
that is, turning a sequence of numbers into binary. (the issue involves
not just turning integers into binary, but for example marking or
demarcating combined characters such as umlaut or initiate or terminate
right-to-left writings) Usually but not always, the encoding business
is intertwined together with the character set/code map specification,
even though they are entirely separate concepts.

• now on your computer, say you are using Windows and OutlookExpress,
there's a menu or option somewhere you can see that says text encoding
or character set. Now, that's where you tell the computer which of
these standardized character/encoding stuff set to choose from to
actually represent what you type on the keyboard. (in the case of
Chinese for example, you can't type directly, you need another
technology Input Methods to type stuff.)

• one of these standard, is called Unicode, wich has a character set
that encompasses practically all the world's language's written
symbols, including all Chinese (and includes Japanese phonetics and
Korean alphabets), as well as Arabic alphabets. (i.e. those hateful
Islamic twists the WASPs see)

• once you typed your letter and send it thru a particular encoding
in your email/newsreader software, the message went to the network
“news” servers. For a ride around internet, there needs to be more
protocols. That is, a way to distinguish from a string a binary digits
where does your subject actually starts, where is From, where the To
address starts, where is your message content, ... among other things.

• now we are getting really complex... because in the history of
software and the internet, in the beginning there's really no support
of any character set or all that complex stuff except the ascii (among
others), that is to say, only the characters you can see on the
keyboard. There isn't much that of Standards. Things basically went on
on a as they work basis. Later on these protocols improved in a
patch-wise way, to allow one actually to use non-ascii characters or
foreign languages, or include pictures or other files such as sound &
video as attachment.

• remember that we are bypassing the whole technology of the internet
transport protocols themselves. i.e. IP addresses, various layers...
down to the physics of wiring, copper optical etc.

• OK, now the newserver received your message, it distribute to other
newservers like a spam.

• When you wake up, you open your newsreader hungrily anticipating
news. What happens is that your newsreader software (called client)
contact the particular server and download the message. (all thru
decoding the various many protocols)

• in order for the bullet character to display on your screen, you
assume: (1) your computer supports the whole charset/encoding scheme
the sender used. (2) your computer has the proper font to display it.
(suppose i write chinese to you using Unicode, although your computer
supports (understands) Unicode, your computer theoretically understand
everything, but because you don't have Chinese fonts, your computer
can't display them) (3) and most importantly, nothing has been screwed
up in the message's journey on the net.

• Chances are, things did fuck up somewhere. That is why you see
"E2=80=A2" (which is due to it being fucked up around the news servers)
or a bunch of gibberish (due to you don't have the right font, or
software didn't use the right charset/decoding)

Now, many of you are actually using google to post/read. Here, google
website acts as your newsreader software. Google is pretty good on the
whole. It won't fuckup the encoding. However, your computer still needs
to support unicode and have the font to show bullet. If you have
Windows XP and using Internet Explorer, than you are all fine. If you
have latest Mac OS X, you are all fine too. If you have older
Windows/Mac, or linux, Solaris or other unixes, you are quite fucked
and nobody can help you. Try to see in the menu if there's a
encoding/charset/languages and try to see if it has one item called
unicode or utf8. Use that.

Hactar wrote:

«And "=E2=80=A2" is a good example of why using a bullet is a bad
idea, especially when you can't control the charset (or whatever)

Now with all the trouble, as to why would someone use a bullet • that
requires some “advanced” technology then resorting to the simple
asterisk * ?

Such basically came down to choice. If you really want massive
compatibility, you go with the universally available asterisk. If you
truly care, you really should write on paper with pen instead.
Remember, folks, not everyone on earth has computer. But if you have
advanced formality perfection obsession that the moronic grammarian
idiots wont, then perhaps asterisks must be done away with by explicit
itemization embedded in your writings.

“O brave new worlds, That have such people in them!”

Enjoy my unicode rhapsody: http://xahlee.org/Periodic_dosage_dir/t1/
see how your computer does.

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 xah at xahlee.orghttp://xahlee.org/

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